Wearing violet for Matt

Matt Dodge and his familyMatt Dodge is like the cousin you’re always glad to see at family parties. He’s positive, friendly, excited to see you and generally just full of life.

Matt, an American Family Insurance agent in Mason City, Iowa, woke up at the end of the 2013 with a lump on his neck. The diagnosis came fast and the news wasn’t good: Matt has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s hard to even imagine the reaction a dad with two kids under the age of 10 has to that news. But Matt’s facing this challenge with the same humor and grace we’ve seen in him every day. His family has even started a Facebook group, Matt Dodge kicks cancer, to share updates about Matt on this journey, where people can wish him well, too.

For those of us who know Matt, news of his illness was a blow.

“Matt is a great agent and family man,” says his manager, Terry Bartels, who hired Matt as an agent right out of college. “He helps and supports everyone he runs across.  You don’t hear him say a negative word, and even during this fight, he is still thinking of things he can do to help others right now.”  

Matt’s part of a group of agents we at American Family call Agency Council. They meet a few times a year to share feedback from and give reaction to new ideas. It’s a tight group where new friendships have developed as agents and employees have had a chance to get to know each other.

Enter Cami Sagvold. Cami is an American Family agent in Moorhead, Minn., right next to Fargo. She’s gotten to know Matt through Agency Council, and when she heard in January that he had cancer, she wanted to do something to show support. This week, American Family's Agency Council members are meeting in Madison, and Cami rallied them to wear violet to show Matt they are thinking of him.

American Family Insurance Agency CouncilThere’s violet everywhere. T-shirts. Sweaters. Cupcakes with violet frosting. Violet-sprayed hair (and scalps, for some of the follicly challenged). Former Agency Council members are wearing T-shirts back in their offices.  And people are taking pictures and sharing them with Matt through social media.

Family is a big part of our focus. It’s times like these when you really appreciate one of the things that means – putting that extra effort in to show a friend you care. Well done, Agency Council.

And good luck Matt – your American Family is pulling for you.

Reaching a dream, one stage at a time

Daxton BloomquistThis story isn’t about me. Instead, it’s about my son, Daxton Bloomquist. It’s about following your dreams no matter where they take you and how hard you have to work to achieve them.

After graduating high school in 2006, Daxton attended Wichita State University where he majored in Theatre. Summers were filled with performing at the Music Theatre of Wichita, Okla. and the Starlight theatre in Kansas City, Mo. In 2010, Daxton graduated, earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts.

As an actor, Daxton had a dream of performing on Broadway. It’s a dream many have, but few actually make it. I can remember Daxton saying he would be on Broadway someday. There were naysayers who’d tell him, “You have to be really good and you might not make it.” But Daxton didn’t listen to the negative. Instead, he stayed focused on his dream.

After graduating from college, like many aspiring actors, Daxton moved to New York City where he did the “starving artist” thing. When he wasn’t auditioning, he worked at a coffee shop, did temp work, catered and became a caregiver for a family with a six-year-old son. Through it all, he never lost sight of his dream of performing on Broadway.

In 2011, Daxton got an offer with the Disney Cruise Line to be an entertainer on its new ship, the Disney Fantasy where he was cast as Hercules in the fantasy show. He spent the next year traveling the high seas, often putting in 70-hour weeks. Returning to New York, he was cast in the ensemble of “Hello Dolly” at the Ford Theatre by a choreographer he met on the Disney cruise.

In 2012 – just two years after graduating from college – his Broadway dream came true. Daxton was cast as a swing in the Tony Award-winning musical, “The Book of Mormon,” a musical, religious satire. (As a swing, his job is to cover for other members of the cast if someone can’t perform.) Making it to Broadway didn’t just happen. It took a lot of work and perseverance but most importantly for Daxton, it meant never losing sight of his dream.

A dream come true? Absolutely. The end of his adventure? Definitely not!

Don’t Let the Winter Blues Keep You Down

Beating the winter bluesEvery year when winter rolls around, it means less daylight, colder temperatures and less time spent outdoors. Over the years, I’ve learned that it can also bring on a case of the “winter blues” or little bit of depression.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about the change in the season. What we can do is change how we look at it.

I learned a long time ago that my only real option was to learn how to live with winter and have fun with it. Kind of a, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Over the years I’ve tried downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing and building snowmen with my kids. I grew to have fun in the winter. And (don’t tell my kids), I actually enjoy using the snow blower to clear snow from my driveway and sidewalk. For me, the snow blower is a toy I get to use every time it snows.

With a little effort, anyone can do the same thing to beat the winter blues. You might not learn to love winter, but you can at least learn how to accept it and live with it.

To keep the winter blues away, get outside! Try some outdoor sports like ice skating, skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing. An added advantage of being outside during the day is being exposed to sunlight which helps our bodies produce Vitamin D. If you can’t spend much time outside, consider changing some of your light bulbs to “full spectrum” ones that help mimic the sun’s natural light. That extra feeling of sunlight goes a long way when it comes to chasing the blues away.

If you really don’t like the cold and don’t want to be outside, use your time to take care of indoor stuff you don’t do in the summer because you’re busy outside. Use winter as a chance to catch up on movies you’ve been meaning to watch or books to read.

Bottom line? Winter won’t adapt to us – we have to adapt to it. Might as well make friends with Mother Nature – you won’t regret it.

Editor's note: For more information about coping with seasonal disorders, check out this information from our friends at UW Health, or read the February edition of our @dvisor newsletter

Avoiding ice dams (and showers indoors)

Preventing ice damsWhen you’ve got kids, there are certain comments you just don’t want to hear.

“Daddy, the cat peed on your workbench.”

“We all traded hats in school today! How come my head itches?”

And then I'll never forget this one: “Daddy, Daddy, it’s raining in the family room!”

When I heard that, I rushed downstairs to discover my children frolicking about as a steady shower sprinkled downward from the ceiling beams. What fun!

It was on that unseasonably warm March morning when the term “ice dam” entered my vocabulary.

Looking out our family room window, I could see portions of the ice dam – a solid layer of ice and icicles encrusting the rain gutter along the edge of the roof.

The rapidly melting snow running down the roof was blocked by this dam, and the water began creeping its way back up the roof, seeping under the shingles and dripping through cracks and holes in the roof covering.

Meanwhile, inside our house, the ceiling had become so sodden that it began to shower indoors.

Three factors contributed to this predicament:

Insulation and structural issues: We had warm air in the attic, largely due to improper insulation, and the lack of ridge and soffit vents. This warm air heated the underside of the roof, increasing the rate of melting snow on top. So, uh, it was the house’s fault!

Clogged gutters: Okay, this one’s on me. I was lazy and didn’t clean my gutters the preceding fall.

Snow buildup: If I had removed about 3 to 5 feet snow feet from edge of the roof, that would have reduced or even eliminated the ice dam(age). Hindsight is 20-20.

Maybe there were other causes, but those seemed to be the big ones.

By the time I figured all of this out, the “rain inside” was starting to get out of hand. When your kids have to wear raincoats and boots just to watch TV, you know you’ve got a problem.

I had to act quickly. Using a hastily purchased roof rake, I pulled enough snow off the roof to bring the indoor showers to a virtual halt.

Then came the arduous work of cleaning everything up, and addressing the lack of insulation and venting.

Ever since then, I’ve religiously cleaned my gutters in the fall, and have used my roof rake to remove snow from the roof throughout the winter.

No more ice dams.

I guess that’s water under the, um, bridge.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about preventing ice dams, and dealing with them when they happen?  Check out this @dvisor article, or watch the video on this Learning Center page.  

The big game, teamwork and family

Russell Wilson Dream BigIt’s finally here: the big game.

The excitement among American Family Insurance employees and agents has been building for weeks. We’re so proud of our brand ambassador, Russell Wilson, for reaching the Super Bowl in his second season. We’re excited to see a great game today between two class-act teams.

And, we are super-proud of the teamwork and creativity on display in our new commercial featuring Russell (and the voice of the legendary Harry Belafonte). We’re also having fun getting our social media communities excited about the spot’s debut during the big game.  

Social media helps us connect with people in new ways, rallying around common interests, like the Grammy’s or the Super Bowl. We’ll be doing that today, joining the conversations about our commercial on Twitter and Facebook, using our hashtag #longlivedreams.

We’ll talk about what inspires us during the Super Bowl. And, we’d love to hear what you think. So use #longlivedreams or share with us on Facebook or Twitter.

One of the things on my mind this week has centered on the theme of team and family, and how much they are alike. They support each other and build each other up. Each individual contributes based on his or her strengths, and the whole of the effort is stronger because of it.

That’s how we’ve felt here this week, building on each other’s energy, and it’s been amazing.

A lot has been said about Russell Wilson this week – about his leadership and determination. The New York Times had a fantastic piece on his quiet determination and how he’s been easy to overlook in the midst of all the Super Bowl hype.

Russell’s determination and drive impress me, too. But what impresses me most is his focus on team, family and his commitment to building up others. Every Tuesday, he visits the children at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Tuesday after the Seahawks won the NFC Championship? There he and his wife Ashton were, visiting the children.

I used to work at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and it was a big deal when an athlete came to visit. A really big deal. And usually a person came maybe once a year, rarely during their busy sports season.

Russell and Ashton do it every week. The impact this has on the kids and their families, who are stuck in a hospital week after week, wondering what their future holds … to me, it says more about his character than anything else.  And that’s what makes me proud that American Family has Russell Wilson on our team. He inspires me to be a better person.

Long live dreams.

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